Title: Two Bedrooms
Word Count 708
Disclaimer Only John Hornblower is mine
Infirmary, El Ferrol, Spain
Most nights his dreams were benign.
Most nights they were fleeting wisps, of past and wants, and plans that would never be. He dreamed of the forgotten music of childhood, of little cakes, 'One for each hand, Archie,' in his small boys hands. He dreamed of his house in Scotland, of the smell of the air, his strong child's legs running in the sun. he dreamed of a shirt he had had the summer he was 12. These dreams he forgot. They were gone by the time he rubbed his eyes.
But some nights were bad ones. He had to brace a little, as he went to sleep. He had to try to accept, and be ready, because he never knew when the bad ones were coming.
This night was quiet. They had curled close, in the narrow infirmary bed, He had rested against Horatio, so warm, so close, and talk had trailed away, and Archie's eyes had closed. The hand that cupped his shoulder had slid away to its own dreams.
The bad was waiting, there at the bottom. He was naked, shamed, alone. “Been waiting for you Kennedy...You're all mine now, boy.”
The voice was behind him, he was to weak to fight back, to slow to flee. The voice was Simpson, and Simpson was dead. With the implacable the logic of dreams, Archie knew that that meant he was dead too. He opened his mouth to shriek, and only dust came out. The dead thing threw him forward, and pressed in, it thrust its horror into him, and the hurting went on and on.
He heard his own cry, kitten weak, shamefully unable to fight. The sound woke him. He was Archie, alive. Archie, in prison in Spain because he had failed 5 times to escape. Archie, in the infirmary bed, because he had fits and got ill. The shame followed him to the waking world. He shook, he was soaked with stinking fear-sweat. A man should do better.
Horatio surfaced beside him, he opened his dark fringed eyes, he looked at Archie with nothing but love. He smiled. He drew Archie close again. Kissed his nose.
“Do you want to tell me?”
Horatio drew him down, and stroked Archie's back, sleepily, until sleep came again. This second sleep, in its mercy was gentle and blank.
Dr Hornblower's Bedroom, Kent England
He had believed in prayer, once. As a child, he had assumed that his wishes were heard, that his boyhood sins were noted. He did not know when he had lost belief. It was not a place in himself that he wanted to examine.
His wife had gone into the ground, alone. It had been summer then, but so cold. John Hornblower remembered the cold. And his son's eyes, he remembered those. They had been new baby slate, that first week. He had thought that they might stay blue. But they had darkened, turned almost black. So puzzled, Horatio's baby eyes. Poor little mite, he missed the breast. Somehow, looking at those eyes, John had felt belief trickle away. As if his faith had been too small, somehow. The love that came into its place, felt bigger.
Horatio, had been all that was good. Love humbled John Hornblower. It drove him to his knees, But it was not the same as his childhood belief.
Now, alone in his widowers bed, in his empty house, he heard the wind. Six months now, with no letter. It had never been so long, and every day hurt. Surely, if his boy was dead, someone would let him know.
Years now, since those two boys had sprawled on the hearthrug. Dark and bright. He still saw them so clear. Horatio had written, in his last letter, that Archie Kennedy had been lost at sea. Logical, to assume him dead. But he saw them both so clear in memory.
John Hornblower listened to the wind, and his bed was cold. Puzzled baby eyes had sought his once. A small hand had taken his, confidingly. Two young men had laughed over a chess-board. John Hornblower groped for his childhood prayers.